The Holy Spirit, through Paul, 'strengthened and encouraged the saints' by saying, 'We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God' (Acts 14:22). Why is that necessary? Shouldn't the Gospel be an attractive package to persuade people to change the course of their lives and join those in the narrow lane (Matthew 7:13)?
Let us take a closer look at this essential aspect of the Christian faith. (Scripture is an inspired revelation to us by the Holy Spirt. The names of the human writers only help with the references, but the Bible is God's words about Himself and His kingdom.)
- 'Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything' ( James 1:2-4). Perseverance is precious to God, and it isn't easy. We need God's strength to persevere: '...being strengthened with all power according to His glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience' (Colossians 1:11). Endurance is a very necessary component of faith. For example, Demas left Paul to again get involved in the secular world. He gave up. Presumably it became too much for him to suffer like Paul (2 Timothy 4:9). Jesus put repeated emphasis on perseverance: 'To him who overcomes...' (Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21). Perseverance is important to God (Jesus demonstrated it by going straight to the Cross and not taking another 'easy' road). If we can persevere it will make us 'mature and complete, not lacking anything.' It is difficult to define what mature and complete means, but compare it with army training: the strenuous discipline eventually makes the soldiers fighting fit. Why would it not be the same in God's kingdom?
- Suffering purifies and tests our faith, which is so precious to God that it will result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus is revealed (1 Peter 1:7).
- Suffering purifies us from sin, so that we will not live the rest of our lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God (1 Peter 4:1-2). In the end it will be worth it, because those who chuckled at our sufferings for the name of Christ, will give an account to God (1 Peter 4:4-5).
- Suffering identifies us with Christ (1 Peter 4:12). There is a teaching that says we are King's kids and should live in wonderful, carefree, abundance, but Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is our example. If God thought it fit to discipline Him, how much more us (Hebrews 12:1-12)?
- Jesus did pay the ultimate price to win His bride. He didn't think twice about rescuing us from the dragon, that old serpent the devil. Isn't He entitled to know whether we love Him so much that we are willing to endure some suffering? Isn't that why He exhorts us to persevere? Those who endure will be overwhelmed by the gifts He will shower on His bride.
What should our attitude be towards our suffering brothers? Jesus tells us to resist the devil that prowls around like a roaring lion (1 Peter 5:8- 9). We should encourage and support them and call on the Lord for them. He will give them wisdom to handle the situation (James 1:5). Remember: Jesus is watching us and encouraging us through the Holy Spirit and the Bible, waiting with wonderful gifts for the faithful.